HANCOCK COUNTY — It’s a lesson in patience, planting a seed then watching it grow, the practice has helped a county resident earn one of the state’s highest honors.

The project started back in 2009 when Michael Forgey and family partnered with Purdue University’s Hardwood Tree Improvement and Regeneration Center (HTIRC). The plan, to establish a 100-acre tree plantation featuring improved genetics of black walnut, black cherry, red oak, white oak, butternut, and American chestnut.

Now the plantation has developed into the largest research cooperator with the HTIRC. Due to the work of Mike and the Forgey family, the longtime New Palestine resident and Rush County farmer was recently awarded the Governor’s “Sagamore of the Wabash” for contributions in research to improve our region’s hardwood forests.

The award is the highest honor that the Governor of Indiana bestows. It’s a personal tribute usually given to those who have rendered a distinguished service to the state or to the governor.

“It really was a surprise,” Forgey said of getting the award.

On behalf of Governor Eric Holcomb, Indiana State Representative Bob Cherry and retired State Senator Bob Jackman presented the award designed as a tribute to those who have rendered a distinguished service to the State of Indiana.

Through the years, Mike had hosted Senator Jackman, a retired veterinarian, at the tree farm along with several retired veterinary colleagues and said he thinks Senator Jackman played a role in him getting the honor.

“I’m very appreciative of that,” Mike said. “Doing something with trees, it’s like creating a living piece of art as it changes every year and every season.”

Mike and the family, who have lived in the New Palestine community since 1988, are humbled by the recognition. They acknowledge the involvement and support of family members, friends, Purdue University, local Agricultural Services (ASCS) and elected officials.

“I’m not going to see the harvest of these tree as this is one of those projects where you have to find a reward in the process of what we are doing here that is not financial,” Mike said. “These trees are going to take 50-some years before there is a harvest and we see how things turn out.”

Mike, who had a lengthy career as a health care administrator, noted it feels good to leave a legacy for his children and grandchild surrounding farming and agriculture.

“It is a lesson in patience and it’s a good lesson for young people when they come out and tour the farm,” Mike said. “Making things and accomplishing something meaningful does not come over night.”

Mike grew up in Columbus and graduated from Columbus East High School in 1977 and then graduated from Indiana University in Bloomington before spending many years working with the state legislature on senior health care. He then starting his tree farm project when he retired from the health care field to leave behind a true legacy.

This is not the first time Mike and the family have been recognized for their work. In 2011, Mike was name a “Distinguished Hoosier” by then Governor Mitch Daniels for his contributions to senior healthcare and housing. Plus, in 2015, Mike received the Rush County Conservation Farmer Award.

As for The Sagamore of the Wabash award, it was created decades ago during the term of Governor Ralph Gates, who served from 1945 to 1949. Governor Gates was to attend a tristate meeting in Louisville with officials from the states of Ohio and Kentucky. Aides to the governor discovered the governor of Kentucky was preparing Kentucky Colonel certificates for Governor Gates and Senator Robert A. Taft, who to represent the State of Ohio.

The Hoosiers decided that Indiana should have an appropriate award to present in return. The term “Sagamore” was used by the American Indian Tribes of the northeastern United States to describe a lesser chief or a great man among the tribe to whom the true chief would look for wisdom and advice. Each governor since Gates has presented the certificates in their own way.

Among these who have received Sagamores have been astronauts, presidents, ambassadors, artists, musicians, politicians, and ordinary citizens who have contributed greatly to Hoosier heritage. Official documentation about the award notes the Sagamores have been conferred upon both men and women. There is no record of the total number which have been presented, as each governor has kept his own roll, just as each has reserved the right to personally select the recipients.